It seems like the hard work is done once you finally realize what is happening to your skin. It’s all of a sudden tight, dry, itching, burning even, like, all the time. Not only that, but it’s red, riddled with clogged pores or inflamed acne and pretty much just pissed off.
You have a damaged moisture barrier.
The hard work of figuring out what the heck pissed off your skin is done, so it should be easy peasy to heal right?
Look, healing your moisture barrier is 110% possible. In fact, your skin actually wants to heal itself. Our skin is made to be resilient and regenerative, and having a healthy, functioning barrier is something our skin will fight to have.
Sometimes we get in our own way when it comes to allowing our skin the space it needs to heal.
Trust me, I’ve been there and I’ve definitely gotten in my own way when it comes to allowing my skin to just heal. That’s why I wanted to come up with not only a product recommendation guide of all the products that will set you up for success when healing your barrier, but also share with you the philosophies, tips and tricks needed to guide you through your healing process.
How I Pissed Off My Skin and Damaged my Moisture Barrier
I don’t think it was just one incident that caused my barrier to completely go haywire on me. Instead, I think a series of bad moves, bad habits and impatience pushed my skin over the edge.
#1 was a bad habit stretching back to 2016. At that time my skin was in a bad state; it was completely covered in clogged pores, acne and congestion. I was desperate to rescue my skin and finally found amazing success with using azelaic acid nightly in my skincare routine. Azelaic acid was my skin’s savior and I was happy to keep it in my routine to make sure my skin never got bad like that again. I continued to use azelaic acid every single night for nearly 3 years. Now, that may not have been such a bad thing, but I think I was over doing it after my skin cleared up. I never once thought to try to scale down to every other night or less to see how my skin did. I continued to treat my skin as if I was having a terrible breakout even though my skin was clear. I believe this unrelenting nightly use made my skin more sensitive.
#2 was a series of unfortunate events. I can trace back the beginning of my barrier troubles to using a product that had a lot of lactic acid in it. I was using the product day and night, somewhat oblivious to the actual ingredients of the product (lesson: always read the ingredients fully). After almost two weeks I realized the issue and the irritation it was causing. But the damage was done. I’d like to also mention I was still using my nightly azelaic acid.
Then came a myriad of AHA masks, treatments that slowly but surely did their damage on my weak skin. I then put the cherry on the cake by trying to up my use of active vitamin C from 5% to 15%. That was accompanied by some nice burning sensations on my face. The next morning my skin was red, burning and had quite a few deep, under the skin lumps to top it all off.
#3 impatience was really the key to disaster here because every time my skin started to feel a little better, I would push it again. I never wanted to stop using chemical exfoliation (more on that later) and I continued to push my skin to stick to some kind of “schedule” that I thought was right rather than listen to the needs of my skin.
The Long, Long, Long Road to Healing My Moisture Barrier
It took a lot of reading, research and a little bit of trial and error to get my routine down, but little by little, I was able to build an effective routine that nourished, protected and healed my skin. Here’s what I did:
Stopped using cleanser in the morning and only rinsed with water before proceeding with my morning skincare routine. Cleanser, yes even low pH and gentle ones, can be extremely stripping on the skin. When the barrier is damaged you have so little moisture in your face as it is, you don’t want to take that little bit out with unnecessary cleansing. And when you think about it, cleanser in the morning is rather unnecessary because how much dirty, bacteria and real grime do you think you’re exposed to at night?
Protecting the skin from TEWL (trans epidermal water loss) is serious business when you are dealing with a damaged barrier. Your skin no longer holds in the necessary hydration and moisture for healthy functioning skin so it’s important to not only preserve what little you have left in your skin but start to deeply supplement the skin with more hydration through skincare products. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is toners. Toners can deeply penetrate the skin to deliver soothing hydration to your raw, dry skin. Make sure to only use hydrating toners free of any potential irritants (drying alcohols, astringent ingredients, essential oils, etc.). And don’t feel like you can only do one layer! Toners can be layered up on your skin 3, 5, even 7 times to get all the hydration back into your skin that was lost. Listen to your skin, when it feels well fed, stop. (see the product guide below for some recommendations)
Layering up your hydration is key, but then you have to start to seal it into your skin since your barrier will not work to hold on to that vital hydration. Moisturizing layers that start to build up an occlusive layer will help your skin hold on to what it needs. This can be done with serums and facial oils, and it’s essential to have a great moisturizer on hand. (more below)
Adding lots of hydration and sealing it in is just the first component to keeping your skin comfortable now. But we also have to incorporate products and ingredients that will help speed up the healing process by making our barriers stronger. There are quite a few beneficial ingredients out there but research shows time and again that the most effective combo of ingredients is ceramides, fatty acids and cholesterol. These ingredients on their own are good but when they are combined together they work faster and more efficiently at fortifying your barrier.
Drop the Acid. No Seriously, Stop it.
You want to know the secret to accelerated healing? The one thing that will heal your skin quicker than any of the other advice I’ve given?
Stop. Using. Chemical. Exfoliation.
I. Mean. It.
You have to stop. That’s really all there is to it. If you continue to use chemical exfoliation, even just a little bit you will continue to set your progress back every time.
Don’t believe me?
I didn’t want to stop using chemical exfoliation. I was married to my azelaic acid and I didn’t think I needed to stop using it to get my barrier back on track, even though all the advice out there told me to.
The thing is, I was scared to stop. Remember, I started to use the azelaic acid as a way to control a bad breakout and I thought that if I stopped my skin would go back to that terrible state. Even though I had inflamed pimples and clogged pores plus irritated, angry skin because my barrier was so damaged. I was just too scared.
But everything I did just didn’t seem to move the needle enough. So after about 6 weeks of trying to heal my barrier while continuing to use chemical exfoliation and seeing no progress, I came to Jesus. I saw the light.
I committed myself to stopping the azelaic acid, and guess what? My skin actually started to look clearer for the first time in months and my barrier started to make rapid progress. All-in-all it took about 5 weeks after stopping chemical exfoliation for my barrier to be completely healed.
And I’m kicking myself because it could have been over and done with sooner if I had just stopped right away, instead I put myself through 6 extra weeks of torture, irritation and burning because of my vanity. Don’t be like me.
Magic Sauce Ingredient to Healing Your Barrier? Shhhh… It’s a Dirty Word.
You have to be patient.
In skincare we want it all, now, and fast results. But this is one thing you can’t force, speed up or hack. Good old patience and persistence is what will get you through to the other side.
The Best Skincare Products To Heal Your Barrier
Cleanser for PM cleanse: Make P:rem Safe Me Relief Moisture Cleanser* https://amzn.to/2FiCHgJ
Serum: Rovectin Aqua Activating Serum*
Moisturizer Perfect for Barrier Protection: Cerave Moisturizing Cream*
Sunscreen for Irritated Skin: Make P:rem Defense Me Blue Ray Sunscreen*
Sleeping Pack to Protect Skin from TEWL: Cosrx Overnight Honey Mask*
* Indicates use of affiliate links that pay a small commission to help run this blog.